BOSTON (CBS) — For the first time in seven seasons, the Celtics won’t be getting a true taste of the postseason this year. Over the next few days though, Brad Stevens and many players on his young team will get a sample of what a playoff series might feel like.
Tonight, Boston will have a rematch with the Toronto Raptors, who defeated the Celtics in Boston Wednesday night 99-90. With the win, the Raptors snapped an 11-game losing streak at the TD Garden that dated all the way back to the 2007-08 season.
The back-to-back matchups against Toronto is the first time the Celtics will face a team in consecutive games since early November. Earlier this week, Stevens reflected on the challenge of facing the same team on a back-to-back.
“From the game plan standpoint, you might be able to tweak and change some things and do some things on the fly, which are good, because you basically have 96 straight minutes against the same team. It still goes back – and it always does – it goes back to how well you do your stuff versus how well they do their stuff and who makes plays when those plays present themselves,” Stevens said.
The home-and-home matchup against the playoff-bound Raptors will provide a taste of what a seven-game series might feel like, according to veteran Rajon Rondo.
“You kind of take it like a playoff game,” Rondo explained. “If you play a game once, obviously there isn’t much you can change within a couple days. You just try to do a better job of executing your offensive and defensive schemes. We’ll play Toronto, then we’ll have one day to rest and then go back at it again on the road.”
Jared Sullinger agreed with Rondo’s assessment on the games similarity to the postseason.
“Definitely, because every game is an adjustment in the playoffs,” Sullinger said. “I remember watching Doc [Rivers] when he was watching film. The adjustments he made on the fly were just tremendous. We know we have to make adjustments [when we] play teams back-to-back. This is a team that wants to win the Atlantic Division so this going to be a scrappy game.”
The back-to-backs do not stop after the matchup with the Raptors. Instead, two more consecutive games against the Chicago Bulls are on the docket for both Sunday and Monday night, creating a rare quirk in the schedule for the Celtics. It’s the first time since 1977-78 that the Celtics played two sets of consecutive games over a four-game stretch.
“Pretty unique,” Stevens said of the stretch. “But hopefully we’re to the point sooner rather than later that we’re playing a lot of them that really matter. I think it will be a good thing for our team to have to play against a team, learn through film, learn through walkthrough and then have to go out and play against them again. Two very good teams playing at a very good level. Obviously the 3 and the 4 seeds in the East right now.”
With just 11 games remaining in the regular season, Stevens will also be taking advantage of evaluating his own roster against top competition that are fighting for playoff seeding down the stretch.
“I think you’re judging them on how efficient they are in the minutes they play,” Stevens said. “I think that’s the most important thing – is how productive are you when you’re on the court. I think that we’ve continued to have pretty good spirit amongst us, which is good. And we’ve seen some increase in production from certain guys. I think we probably get too caught up in talking about young guys, because we’ve got a lot of guys that aren’t old that are also on contract here and will hopefully be apart of us as we move toward the future as well.”
With so much up in the air heading into what should be an eventful summer for Boston, Sullinger and Co. know that this team will have to keep playing with a purpose to improve their chances of sticking around this summer.
“For me, just finishing the season out strong. Understanding that you are evaluated everywhere you go, every time you step on the floor, so I can’t just say ‘forget about the season.’ I have to come out there and play hard. As a team, we show that. We haven’t given up.”
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